This past week, there have been lots of thoughts shared on how the 49ers quarterback situation should play out after the selection of Trey Lance. While that has been the primary focus for many, the position that might deserve the most attention is running back.
San Francisco is bringing back the hero of the 2019 NFC Championship game, Raheem Mostert, along with Jeff Wilson Jr. And a week before the draft, they added Wayne Gallman as a free agent signing. The 49ers didn’t stop there, adding two more backs to their stable by selecting Trey Sermon in the third round and Elijah Mitchell in the sixth round of the draft.
The 49ers typically carry five running backs on the active roster. One of those will be Kyle Juszcyk which means one of the halfbacks will be left out.
Raheem Mostert is the Jimmy Garoppolo of running backs. He’s really good, when healthy. Unfortunately for Mostert, he isn’t healthy very often and has not proven that he is capable of being an every-down back. At 29, Mostert is the oldest of the group and his contract carries a salary cap charge of just over $458k should he be released.
Jeff Wilson Jr is younger and bigger than Mostert. Wilson also is a more physical runner but, unfortunately, he has yet to prove that he can stay healthy which has limited him to only 28 games in three seasons with the team. Wilson signed a new contract this offseason and the $2.05 million cap charge just about guarantees that he will be on the roster.
Wayne Gallman spent his first four NFL seasons with the New York Giants before signing with the 49ers as a free agent. Gallman is a bigger back than Mostert, and has proven to be a solid threat as a receiver out of the backfield. The new contract that Gallman signed carries no cap charge should he fail to make the roster.
This leaves Trey Sermon and Elijah Mitchell. Sermon shows terrific contact balance with the ball in his hands and seems to get stronger as the game goes on. He has all the traits to be a strong closer, something the 49ers have not had with the lighter, faster backs they’ve employed during the Shanahan regime, something that may have contributed to the lack of rushing attempts in the fourth quarter of their Super Bowl loss.
During his Pro Day, Mitchell posted two sub-4.4 second 40 times, giving him similar speed to that of Mostert even though he is a bit bigger. Combining Mitchell’s speed with the power of Sermon would give the 49ers a nice backfield combination moving forward.
Kyle Shanahan has one of the most diverse running attacks in the NFL, and adding a quarterback who can run like Trey Lance should allow Shanahan to diversify his run game even further. In addition, one way to help out a young quarterback is to limit the of amount times he needs to throw by focusing on the running game. To do this, you need to have backs who can handle the pounding.
The two backs that are most likely to be the odd man out in this battle are Mostert and Gallman. Both have one-year contracts that are easy to move on from. Just like with Jimmy Garoppolo, the injury issues are a major concern for Mostert and this could ultimately be why he finds himself on the outside looking in.